Friday, February 13, 2009

Monkey See: Valentine's Day Un-Romances

by Linda Holmes

I have a long history with romantic movies of all kinds. Goopy musicals, kicky-girl rom-coms, masterpieces of banter -- you name it, and I've probably fallen for it at one time or another. Unfortunately, the older one gets, the more some of these fall apart, and the more others don't work at all. I give you five (of many) Un-Romances. Be warned: all descriptions contain spoilers.

1. Jerry Maguire

This really pains me, because I thought this was a terribly touching story the first time I saw it. As much as "you complete me" and "you had me at hello" are now as dessicated as "Show me the money!" there was a time when they seemed like sort of nifty things for people to say to each other. Of course...I was 25.

Why it's an Un-Romance: What's frustrating is that for the first three-quarters or so, this movie demonstrates all kinds of incredibly valid points. Don't perform dramatic stunts (like quitting your job) to impress guys with good teeth. Don't have drunks over to your house. Don't introduce your kid to guys he'll fall in love with unless you're pretty sure about them. Don't date your boss. Don't try to save disasters. Don't ignore your sister when she warns you about guys who are "hanging onto the bottom rung." Don't get married as an alternative to the nightmare of driving a U-Haul.

And then in the closing moments: BOOM! It turns out that the guy who clearly was not in love with you can suddenly discover he's in love with you, and that all your bad decisions are now irrelevant. If only real life worked...anything like that.

More, after the jump...

2. Sex And The City

This may not even need saying at this point, but given that we're being threatened with a sequel, perhaps that's not the case.

Why it's an Un-Romance: Oh, where to begin. With the ditching of the faithful Smith, one of the only nice men in the history of the entire show? With the refusal to dump the endlessly dumpworthy Big? With the shoes/clothes/closets obsessions that seemingly eclipse every other interest? You can't have a romance between characters unless you have characters, and "loves shoes" is not a character.

2. The Mirror Has Two Faces

This mostly obscure 1996 Barbra Streisand film is simply the first one that came to mind to represent all movies of its kind: the It Was Only After Your Makeover That I Realized You Never Needed A Makeover love story.

Why it's an Un-Romance: Certainly, it's dangerous for anyone to fall into the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, and it could be that it's a coincidence that the "falling in love" part comes after the "application of artificial nails" part. But it doesn't seem that way. It kind of seems like, in the above clip, Glam Barbra wins the happiness that Dumpy Barbra was not entitled to.

3. Sweet Home Alabama

One of the romantic comedies that made Reese Witherspoon the It-Girl of the genre for a time, it seems like a sort of funny, harmless, torn-between-two-lovers piece of business. As if its effect on Witherspoon were not enough, it also did good things for a fellow named Patrick Dempsey.

Why It's An Un-Romance: Agreeing to marry someone when you are in love with someone else and then dumping the person you've agreed to marry at the altar is not romantic, full stop. You are not a romantic hero; you are...kind of a jerk. Having never been left at the altar (whew!), I can't say I speak from experience, but in the many (many) movies in which this happens, the perpetrator always loses my sympathy instantly. See also: Affairs are not romantic, and I am talking to you, The Bridges Of Madison County.

5. Reality Bites

The ultimate early-'90s slacker romance, here is another one that does
a lot of things right in the first three-quarters. No, wait -- the
first nine-tenths.

Why it's an Un-Romance: Ethan Hawke's work in
the front part of this movie is grossly underrated: he may be
detestable, but the guy is pitch-perfectly infuriating, disguising
meanness as a complex personality and push-pulling on Winona Ryder
until she finally does actually sleep with him, at which point he
flakes out and she -- in the movie's truest scene -- stomps her foot
and screams, "I knew this was going to happen!" And she did, and it
did, and that's what makes it a sad (and plausible) story. What isn't
plausible is that he then, out of nowhere, appears at the end to
announce that he's sorry and he's in love with her and now they will go
off happily into the future with only his acoustic guitar and her
father's gas card to sustain them.

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